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  • Writer's pictureGlen A. Kirk

The Fourth Day of Christmas | Feast of the Holy Innocents | December 28 2021

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

Feast of the Holy Innocents | December 28 | Matthew 2

Herod I (or ‘the Great’) was Roman client-king in charge of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was not a popular leader, in part, because of his conciliatory relationship with the Romans and his religious indifference given that he was “a practicing Jew, of Arab origin, on both sides”, potentially a descendent of Judas Maccabeus. His reputation as a brutal tyrant was solidified by murdering several family members including his second wife, Mariamne I, her mother Alexandra, two brothers-in-law and three of his own sons. As there is little information regarding the massacre outside of the biblical narrative, it is believed by some scholars that the story we know from Matthew’s gospel may have been a literary tool, based on Herod’s filicide, rather than an actual historical event.

The visit of the Magi after Jesus’ birth inadvertently triggers the massacre of all male children (some translations say ‘all children’) under age two in and around Bethlehem. Once Herod realizes the Magi are not coming back to report Jesus’ whereabouts his despotism takes over and he orders the genocide in an attempt to eliminate Jesus as his future successor.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents has been recorded in church records as far back as 485 C.E. and was often commemorated as part of Epiphany celebrations. In some times and places the day is marked as a day of fasting, mourning and repentance. In others, such as Spain and the Philippines, it is a day of pranks and fun including a flour war with the ‘inocentes’ dressed in full military regalia. During the Middle Ages a custom of children switching roles with adults for a day was common while the French thought it an unlucky day and starting new projects was forbidden. The popular Christmas song Coventry Carol from the 16th century is one of many hymns based on Matthew’s account of Herod’s horrific slaughter of Bethlehem’s children.

Glen A. Kirk, December 27, 2021

Image and article created for Rural Retreat Lutheran Parish by gakirk using VistaCreate. Copyright 2021 www.rrlp.org.


Franciscan Media. (2020, December 28). Holy innocents. Franciscan Media. Retrieved December 28, 2021, from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/holy-innocents 

Various. (2021, December 27). Massacre of the Innocents. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 28, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents 

Various. (2021, December 27). Herod the Great. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 28, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_the_Great#cite_note-:0-13 

Croo, R. (2002). Coventry Carol - Bramley & Stainer. The Hymns and Carols of Christmas. Retrieved December 28, 2021, from https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/coventry_carol-1.htm 

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